Brick by brick to recovery

    Our client, CarrieAnn, shares the story of her love for building work at St Mungo’s Bricks and Mortar project and how learning new skills is helping her to recover from drug misuse.

    I was on cocaine for about nine years, and with that came heavy drinking, but that was when I was using. I realised I was spiralling out of control, then I decided that I needed to get help, so I referred myself to a day recovery programme. They referred me here to St Mungo’s Bricks and Mortar project in Euston, London. The project helps people recover from homelessness through social and therapeutic construction skills development.

    I’m 34 years old. I have had four years of decorating experience with my step dad. I was a labourer for him and he taught me how to paint. From there I came here and I’ve been here about eight months. I finished my course, which covered bricking, plastering, dry lining, rendering, and now I do wet lining. Since finishing the course, I’ve gone into volunteering.

    I’m a very hands on person. I’m dyslexic so I steer away from reading and writing. Actually, St Mungo’s Brick and Mortar Tutor, John Gani, taught me to pick up a newspaper every morning on the way in – so I’m reading a little bit now. I like anything hands on, building things, decorating is my favourite. I find decorating therapeutic. When I have thoughts in my head and I am feeling a bit down I find a paint brush and a wall to paint. It takes me into my own little world.

    Coming here has made me realise I now have a future ahead of me, instead of the darkness where I was. I’ve learned more skills. Every morning I look forward to coming here because I know I will learn something new. It gives me a reason to get up.

    I was not good at travelling, now I realise I am ok – I used to be terrified of the tube. I live in Battersea, so when I first started I used to take a really long route to get here, not knowing there was a quicker route. Coming here has been really good for my confidence.

    People who come here are from different walks of life. When I first started the course I met people here as they were finishing. I don’t know how they were when they first arrived here, but they walked out of here full of confidence. I am more confident in myself. We all get on and know that if there’s a problem, we can talk to the boss – he can have a quiet word to sort out any confusion.

    Not only do I get to learn new skills, I am in recovery as well. The tutors are amazing; they’re both in recovery with us. There was an incident a couple of weeks ago. I walked in and one of the tutors knew straight away that something was wrong. I went to walk out and he said, ‘stop’. When I turned around, I completely had a meltdown. I’d had a slight relapse. Because I’m in recovery I stay away from cocaine. But I had used some and it was eating me up inside because I knew it was wrong. The advice my tutor gave me was amazing.

    There are a few others in recovery here. The advice we get from tutors helps us stay clean. They share with us what they’ve learned, and with their encouragement we know we can do it.

    Set up almost ten years ago, St Mungo’s Bricks and Mortar project offers practical skills in construction, including, plastering, rendering, brickwork and dry lining. The course is accredited so students leave with a basic entry qualification in construction.

    St Mungo’s relies on the generosity of the public to run projects like Bricks and Mortar. You can find more information about how you can get involved in supporting us on the website.

    Here’s to 2018 and Thank You

    St Mungo’s Chief Executive, Howard Sinclair, reflects on the achievements by clients, staff and volunteers this year and looks ahead to 2018.

    This time of year – however you mark the holidays – can be a time of reflection, gratitude and goodwill.

    Reflecting on 2017, I’ve been thinking about our clients’ achievements this year.

    Mandy (pictured centre), for example. Her story has included mental health issues, family relationship breakdown and sleeping rough.

    Mandy now lives in a St Mungo’s project in Islington which is for people who need some support. She’s also connected in with our client representative group Outside In and our innovative Recovery College. In Mandy’s blog she wrote: “I am at a turning point in my life, where my life is more positive. I can honestly say I am doing things I never thought I would do. If it wasn’t for St Mungo’s I would most likely be dead, they saved my life.”

    On 21 June 2017 she and her friend Claire, who is also a client at St Mungo’s, led a team of St Mungo’s clients and staff up Snowdon. Between them they raised over £40,000 for St Mungo’s.

    It was a tremendous thing to do and a privilege to hear her talk about it at our Carol Concert this year. My very best wishes to her and all of the Snowdon Challenge team. Please do read more about what they accomplished and why.

    And Paul (pictured right). He’s an apprentice in our Housing First scheme in Brighton. This year he told us: “I have peace of mind, a safe home, a pound in my pocket, food in the cupboard and good friends – that’s a world beyond my wildest dreams.”

    My congratulations to him and all those involved in our award-winning apprenticeship scheme for people with lived experience of homelessness. Apprentices like Garry (pictured left), who works in one of our projects for people with mental health needs.

    He told us about his new role: “It feels really good that I’m helping people to recover – it’s that old cliché ‘giving something back’. I’m being a resource rather than using the resource.”

    I agree with his sentiment that: “There’s outside stuff beyond St Mungo’s where frustrations lie, for example, things that should be different with the government, but you have to work with what you’ve got. There are only some things you can impact.”

    We live in a complicated world, where homelessness is rising and, without more joined up national and local strategies, the concern is that welfare changes, lack of affordable accommodation and other social factors may see even more of a rise in rough sleeping and homelessness.

    But homelessness is not inevitable. In 2018 I will be sitting on the Rough Sleeping Advisory Panel, made up of people from charities and local government. Our role is to support a new Ministerial Taskforce, which brings together ministers from key departments to provide a cross-government approach to preventing rough sleeping and homelessness. I will be making sure our client voices are heard as we feedback  on ways we can work together to end homelessness and rebuild people’s lives.

    Thank you to our clients, staff and amazing volunteers and supporters for their dedication and commitment this year. May I wish you all a happy and peaceful holiday. Here’s to 2018.

    Improving Bristol’s Mental Health

    For over three years, St Mungo’s has been running the Assertive Contact and Engagement Project (ACE), providing mental health services in Bristol. Paul Sargent, manager at ACE, explains how his team have been reaching out to people who face complex barriers accessing services.

    ‘Services tailored to the needs of people’

    We provide a variety of services tailored to the needs of people who may be mistrustful of treatment, may lead chaotic lifestyles or who have had poor experiences with services in the past. Our 26 staff work closely with the LGBTQI community, asylum seekers and refugees, rough sleepers, parents, and those with risky drug and alcohol use. Our specialised services include outreach, drop-ins, one-to-one support, groups and therapy. We work flexibly until the people we support have accessed the services they need or feel able to do so more easily on their own.

    Over the past three years, ACE has worked with approximately 882 people and assisted them to access mental health support. Approximately 45% of our clients seen on a one-to-one basis are or were rough sleepers.

    ‘Close working relationship with local services and community groups’

    ACE provides training for community groups and services on how to work with individuals with mental health issues. We have delivered 450 group and outreach sessions including a wellbeing group at North Bristol Advice Centre, a breakfast club for isolated men, women’s mornings, Somali yoga sessions, and a weekly sewing group for South Asian women.

    Our links with businesses and community groups have enabled us to run a wide range of initiatives so people we support can enjoy activities such as fishing trips, yoga sessions and trips to the farm. Corporate volunteers from Lloyds Bank got together to give our Filwood hub a much-needed lick of paint.

    We work closely with local services and community groups so we can all support people who are struggling with their mental health. Our first forum devoted to engagement approaches and strategies takes place on 11 October 2017 and we are proud that over 50 partners will be joining us for this special event. The day will consist of a series of workshops led by staff and partners with client involvement sharing our learning and experience over the last three years.

    ‘We are evolving’

    The ACE team are amazing, they know what their jobs are and are aware of the hurdles and challenges facing a mental health engagement service. We continue to provide training so our staff can support clients who need our help. We are developing our psychological interventions offer and ran our first dialectical behaviour therapy course this year. A talking therapy based on cognitive behavioural therapy, this meets the particular needs of people who experience emotions very intensely.

    Mental health outreach worker, Ritchie recently joined our team and goes out five times a week to meet people who are rough sleeping and have been identified as needing mental health support. Currently, seventeen rough sleepers are receiving one-to-one support from Ritchie.

    We have learnt that engaging and building relationships with clients is the priority, closely followed by doing the same with other services, partners and stakeholders.

    It’s tough times for our clients, and supportive services are struggling to manage. Here at St Mungo’s we know this possibly better than anyone and hold on to hope for a better future. Building key partnerships with the services our clients need the most takes patience, belief and assertiveness.

    So what does the future hold? We aim to provide a path to a bright future for our clients, work closely with our partners to increase our influence within the community and change perceptions of mental health services, all whilst enjoying the work that we do.

    To find out more about the Bristol ACE project, please get in touch:

    Telephone: 0117 239 8969 (Mon – Fri 8:00am – 8:00pm)
    Facebook: @ACEBristolMentalHealth
    Twitter: @ACE_BMH



    ‘We’ve come so far’

    St Mungo’s Haringey Recovery Service (HRS) recently held a five mile ‘Recovery Pride Walk’ with local partners to celebrate the recovery journeys of its service users from substance use.

    This year the walk was extended from two to five miles to include other services along the way such as mental health, and family and carers of drugs and alcohol users. For those taking part, it was a way of making people in the local community aware of where to go in order to receive support to address their substance misuse or if a family, friend or carer needed support.

    For many it was a symbolic day which created a sense of achievement because those taking part were walking with other clients and staff who have been on a similar journey.

    ‘An air of camaraderie and purpose’

    About 50 people completed the Walk, well prepared, with high visibility vests, bottles of water, first aid kits and health and safety awareness instructions and snacks to help energise along the way. People taking part said that they felt as if they were on some important mission – there was an air of camaraderie and purpose.

    For Alice, a Haringey Recovery Service User and Recovery Peer, the walk marked just how far she had come. She said: “I was a steward. I completed the route before the Walk to make sure we knew where we would be going. I put up all the notices to get people involved. The Recovery Pride Walk for me shows how much I have achieved. I’ve been sober for six months – for me, the first time in my whole life. So, it’s something big I have achieved. Hopefully I’ll be involved next year and I’ll be working in the services, supporting my peers.”

    ‘I’ve come so far on my journey’

    Rohan, an ex-service user who now supports his peers at HRS, also really enjoyed the Walk. He said: I’ve been here for three years and moved on. I’m now at the Recovery College doing music technology. I hope the t-shirts we wore put the message across that this is a wonderful service. I am a recovering alcoholic. The staff here really helped me. My mother suffers from dementia and I was going through a tough time looking after her. I found real great support from the staff here. It’s great to be able to go on the Walk. I have come so far on my journey. Next year, I’ll be back again doing this and supporting people like me.”

    Jean Man, Service User Involvement Manager of Haringey Recovery Service said: “After its success last year, people fed back that they wanted the Walk to take place again. The work that people put into this day was unbelievable, the talent, motivation, the willingness to make the event happen and the participation – it made recovery champions of us all. People came back exhausted but satisfied – food and rest were a priority. It also coincidentally but fortunately timed with a wider St Mungo’s Diversity Day, with information for that designed by the service users and staff. And very special thanks from me to our recovery peers – it’s such an honour to work with them.”

    ‘It was inspiring to take part in the walk’

    Haringey Recovery Service is a partnership service involving St Mungo’s, Haringey Advisory Group on Alcohol (HAGA), Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Trust, and Blenheim CPD.
    Set up in 2014, it provides support to people in Haringey on treatment for drug and alcohol problems. This includes counselling, rehabilitation programmes, peer support, and a fantastic Recovery College offering a range of courses to educate, improve wellbeing and prepare people for living independently once again.

    David Devoy, St Mungo’s Regional Director said: “It was inspiring to participate in the walk with clients from across Haringey, our staff and supporters. The public were gracious as we went along, and it’s good to know that the community in Haringey think positively about people in recovery and the services that support them.”



    ‘The Sanctuary were able to reach me’

    “I thought the pain I was suffering mentally couldn’t be alleviated and so the only way out was to take my life.”  – as a new campaign ‘We Hear You’ is launched to get Bristol talking about mental health, Shaun shares his experience at The Bristol Sanctuary, a unique service run by St Mungo’s for people who experience severe emotional distress.

    The Bristol Sanctuary is a welcoming safe space available for anyone feeling they can’t cope or are feeling desperate over the weekends. We help people find some stability and a plan to stay safe. People can spend time talking through their situation with a trained worker, or just take some breathing time.

    ‘Encouraging people to access the help they need’

    Three out of four people who visit The Sanctuary are considering suicide or serious self-harm. Over each weekend, an average of 20 people visit seeking support. Staff want to ensure others know about the service and are launching the ‘We Hear You’ campaign to encourage more people to access the help they need.

    According to the latest statistics from Public Health England, the rate of death by suicide in Bristol is above the three year average for the south west and for England. The City Council’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment states there were 137 suicides in Bristol between 2012 and 2014.

    “I had taken two serious attempts to end my life. I was at my lowest.”

    We asked Shaun, who has used the service to share his experience with us. Shaun, 58, tells us in his own words just how vital it was in saving his life:

    “I was in crisis. I had taken two serious attempts to end my life. I was at my lowest. It was my daughter who phoned for help. I think she called the police. It’s all a blur, but the lady who came with the police, told me about The Sanctuary.

    “It was just before Christmas 2016. The crisis team called round daily to check on my welfare. They were great and talked me out of taking an overdose but they couldn’t offer me the company I needed. I needed to talk, not just in a psychological way, but to talk and for someone to listen. If I talked I got a break from my suicidal thoughts. I didn’t want to be here anymore, my marriage had broken down after 37 years and I was lost.

    “I left feeling okay.”

    “I thought the pain I was suffering mentally couldn’t be alleviated and so the only way out was to take my life. I thought if nothing could stop the pain there’d be no point in seeking help. It was relentless, I could only sleep for an hour or two, and sleep was the only break I got from my dark and painful thoughts.

    “It was wonderful to come to The Sanctuary, to stay as long as I needed to and meet friendly people; with the combination of talking to people and counselling. I left feeling ‘ok’ and with a realisation that there was something that could alleviate the pain. I lost my suicidal thoughts and had, now, a little bit of hope from which I could build my recovery.

    “I have suffered depression for 27 years following an accident at work, which left me with disabilities, and I had to leave my job. Usually for me, when I am in crisis I am unreachable and more to the point I don’t want to be reached. But they were able to reach me, the moment I walked through the door I felt a great relief. That first weekend I came every night they were open, and again the following weekend. My normal coping methods, like talking to my wife were no longer there. I felt I had no future and all I had was this terrible, terrible pain.

    “If I hadn’t come to The Sanctuary I wouldn’t be alive.”

    “The Sanctuary has such a lovely atmosphere, I was greeted with a smiling face – it was right – not over the top – just the right kind of smile. There was no pressure just an acceptance, you don’t have to talk, but you can if you want to. They helped me to see I did have a future and I could be independent. They raised my confidence and my visits improved my social interactions, they were positive experiences. Up until that point I had never left the house without my wife. I was isolated. I began to feel my future was bearable. If I hadn’t come to The Sanctuary I wouldn’t be alive. I am so grateful that the strength of my suicidal thoughts have gone, I still get flashes but its sufficient for me to know that it is there and I can come back any time, and I have.

    “I was as desperate as I think it’s possible to be. To meet people who have compassion and others who are in a similar place helped me get through; I’m often amazed, at how good fellow sufferers are at knowing when to be quiet, or to ask how you are.

    “I have built resilience. I would say to anyone who is going through a crisis, or even before it reaches crisis point to visit, it’s got to be worth giving it a try.”

    Shaun is currently studying for a distance learning degree.

    How to get in touch

    Open Thursday – Monday. Phone lines open from 4pm.
    In person appointments available 5 till 11pm.
    Phone support 5pm till midnight.
    Call us on 07709 295 661 or email to book a place or for more information.


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